A couple of weeks ago I attended my first face-to-face pitching event: ASA literary speed dating, in Sydney. These events are generally held in Sydney and Melbourne every year, and are a rare opportunity for writers to pitch work directly to agents and publishers. This year the ASA also offered a similar opportunity for regional writers to pitch via phone or video conference in a virtual literary speed dating event.
For those who haven’t heard of literary speed dating, imagine a high school parent-teacher conference. With a lot of nervous parents. One agent and seven publishers were seated at desks around a large room, and eighty or so hopeful authors lined up for the chance to pitch their work. The time allowed for each pitch was three minutes, at which time a bell rang and you moved to the end of another queue. We had ninety minutes to pitch to as many industry professionals as possible. As the end drew near, someone in each line was given a sign to hold, like the last shopper at the supermarket when they’re closing the register.
I was initially sceptical about the value of attending pitching events, when most agents and many publishing houses take unsolicited queries anyway. What would be the advantage, I wondered, of putting myself through the stress of a literary cattle call? In the end, I convinced myself it would at least give me something to write a blog post—or two—about, and so here I am, analysing the pros and cons of attending a speed pitching event.
- The opportunity to pitch to publishers who don’t take unagented submissions There were three publishers at this event who don’t accept unsolicited submissions. Without an agent, this is the only way to get your work in front of them.
- The chance to fine-tune your pitch with feedback from industry professionals Although the purpose of pitching was to generate interest in my manuscript, one of the editors offered me generous advice about current market trends and how she thought I should pitch in terms of genre and market. Advice which led me to pitch an editor I hadn’t planned to approach.
- Networking with other writers, editors and agents Terrifying for an introvert like me. Nonetheless, publishing is an industry driven by personal connections, and you’re sure to make a few at this sort of event. Not only did I meet an agent and several editors, I chatted to many other writers while waiting in line.
- An invitation to submit One of the editors was excited by my pitch and suggested I submit and mention her name. I imagine this is one baby step up from going in the slush pile, but still encouraging.
- Building confidence and experience According to common wisdom, experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want. Even if nothing tangible comes of this pitching opportunity, I know I am capable of delivering a verbal pitch and have come away with the confidence to continue on the querying journey.
- Few agents attend speed pitching According to the ASA rep I spoke to, they find it difficult to attract the interest of agents. Only one agent attended my session, and I had unfortunately already queried her. I did take the opportunity to meet her in person and gained insight into what she thought of my work and her reasons for passing on it. In the process I also learned more about the current state of the publishing market.
- Pitching to a publisher is no guarantee they will read your work Two publishers I pitched were taking business cards and promising to contact the writer if they wanted to read their work. I haven’t heard from either of them yet and don’t expect to now.
- The publishers who were inviting submissions were the ones with open submission policies In other words, it would be possible to submit to those publishers via their websites without attending a pitching session.
- The limited time makes it impossible to pitch to everyone It’s important to go in with a strategy and prioritise the order of pitches. I managed to pitch three publishers and have a quick chat with the agent. There were another four editors present who I unfortunately didn’t have time to meet.
- Did I mention it was mildly terrifying?
Overall I’m glad I attended, although it remains to be seen if anything tangible comes out of it. It was an amazing opportunity provided by the ASA, and all the publishers and agents who gave up their time. I certainly would consider fronting up to a future literary speed dating event with my work in progress when the time comes, if only for the opportunity to finesse my pitch.
What do you think? Have you tried speed pitching?